How to DIY Your Theatrical Release and Get Your Film Into 300+ Theaters Image

Legal Deliverables

To our surprise, Stella was never asked for Chain of Title. Chain of title is a document that details the rights of ownership to a film. Essentially, you cannot distribute a movie without it. i.e. you don’t have the legal right to do so. Stella, obviously, did have chain of title and could have formalized it with legal representation but surprisingly, the theater owners simply assumed she had her legal ducks in a row and just trusted her. We can’t guarantee this will work from everyone, obviously. 

Legal deliverables perhaps weren’t requested due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but bigger theaters did require Gloria to have a written third-party agreement for VPFs.  It could also be that the theaters that Gloria worked with were so accustomed to working with distributors that they assumed that due diligence had been done.  It remains to be seen whether other filmmakers would be afforded such leniency. 

Target Demographics

Stella stresses: You need to know the demographic appeal of your film and make that research and thoughtful assessment clear to the theater owners. Then, seek out theaters that have the same demographic target audience.

Even before they had a script, Stella knew that middle-aged faith-based women would be their target market, so they sought out theaters in “middle” America. They didn’t target New York or Los Angeles. Instead they targeted the Bible Belt and it worked. 

She said they had a lot of success working their network and personal connections. Any time a cast or crew member was local to an area, that local connection usually helped secure the interest of a theater owner. Next, they would work with churches and pastors.  Sometimes they would treat the film as a church event and bring their entire congregation! 

Pitching local press can be fruitful but also very labor-intensive. Expect many hours and a lot of rejections.

Revenue Deals

The guidelines are roughly 30-50% of the revenue.  Tulsa didn’t have to pay theaters to play, but there was often a VPF (Virtual Print Fee).  

Financials could change based on the number of weeks a film is playing. So, for example, you might get X percent the first week, Y percent the second week and if there are extensions beyond that, Z percent after that. 

Tulsa got some MG’s here and there, but this was rare. Most theaters had VPF’s, but many also didn’t.

Box Office

This is very important. The industry-standard source to retrieve box office numbers is Comscore. However, Stella used MaccsBox, which is more indie-friendly in terms of price. 

It’s essential to report your box office numbers to Box Office Mojo because theaters will check these and decide to book your movies if they see good numbers there. It’s even more critical when you consider that Box Office Mojo statistics are entirely public.

The virtual print fees (VPF’s) can be significant. Prices can vary wildly but many charge up to a couple thousand dollars.

Covid-19 hit Tulsa’s theatrical run like many others. The film would have made even more money at the box office had Covid not hit many of their theaters. Many times the film could have played longer, but they had to shut down due to Covid.

Would she do it all again? 

Stella’s closing thoughts were that even though her theatrical campaign for Tulsa was a tremendous success, it was a LOT of work – and she would hope that on her next project, she wouldn’t have to do it again.  She hopes that as her projects increase in budget and scope, so will her resources. She would love to have a distributor handle the theatrical in the future. However, that said, it would be a game-time decision, so to speak. If, on the next project, the same scenario unfolds then, sure, she might do it again. It was a lot of work, but it paid off. She just hopes that next time, her budgets are bigger and the distributors are waiting in the wings to pay for the theatrical release on their own.

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  1. Ben Makinen says:

    Thank you Stella! What a wonderful story, and congrats on your success- it is inspiring as I have completed a feature music doc, JazzTown and you have me thinking about how I could pull it off in the US while still living in Indonesia… all the best to you and Tulsa! (I lived there for a year in early 80s and was actually an extra in Coppola’s The Outsiders shot in Tulsa!)

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